Prague: A Quaint Little European City

My first trip with my sister to Europe for 1 week just the two of us. It was her very first time to see Europe so it was a great bonding experience we haven’t had since we were children.

Old Town Square

A typical european town square at the epicenter of Prague is the start for any trip where people gather to eat traditional Czech cuisine.

Top right: Charles bridge crosses the Vitava River which connects the old town and the Prague castle (which is unremarkable compared to other cities and closes at 5pm on a Sunday)

Bottom right: Just off the main square is a Parisian shopping street called Parizka which has high end stores selling every luxury brand (prices were slightly lower than western Europe but not worth traveling just for shopping)

Kafka Statue

A tribute to the famous writer from Prague is the rotating sculpture of Franz Kafka’s head. I thought Prague would be a typical old eastern European city but was surprised to see pockets of modern architecture like the Dancing House nicknamed Fred and Ginger as it resembles a pair of dancers (picture on right) which houses a restaurant and gallery.

Cafe Savoy

This was recommended by a friend, it reminded me of Angelina’s of Paris being a classic cafe but food was quite different. I had the The Savoy Plate. It had a bit of everything. Confit of Duck Leg, Roast Rabbit, Prague Ham, Fried Ham, Fried Pork knuckle, Potato gratin. Meat lovers would love this! I actually only enjoyed the Duck and Pork Knuckle. The Rabbit was too dry so not a favourite of mine. I did enjoy the ambiance with my sister so that more than made up for it.

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St. Vitus Cathedral is situated within the Prague Castle complex. It is an example of beautiful Gothic architecture.

Please do not miss going to the Strahov Library which is part of a Monastery. My husband loves history and reading so had to go see this for him as there were many old books like “Illuminations of the Evangelist” from the end of the 10th Century which is the oldest book in the library. My sister and I were lucky to be toured by a priest who lived in the Monastery. We just happened to see him walking in after having mass in one of the churches in the town near by. He went out of his way to tour us in the private areas where tourists are not normally allowed. I enjoyed going through the whole place and hearing first hand from a priest who knew all the history by heart since he was also a local himself.

On our last day in Prague, I made sure I booked our stay in Aria Hotel Prague by Library Hotel Collection. The service was amazing from checking in and the wonderful Coda Restaurant. For lunch I chose the traditional Czech Cuisine called Crispy Oven Roasted Duck which came with Sauerkraut, Steamed Red Cabbage, South Bohemian Row Potato Dumplings and fried onion.  The duck had so much flavour without being too salty as many ducks often taste and not too oily being baked perfectly. The meat was succulently tender on the inside. The chef definitely cooked with all his heart for all the courses we tried were amazing. This was the best restaurant of the trip and I would highly recommend it.

The day we had to leave I chose again from the Lunch Menu of Coda Restaurant “Symphony ” Chicken Supreme which came with Mush Potato, Sauteed Carrots, Leeks. It was probably the best chicken dish I have ever had. Of course I saved room for dessert and tried the Chocolate Pudding which had coconut Tapioca, Raspberries, Cinnamon Biscuit. A dark chocolate indulgence that was worth the calories!

Prague unlike other Eastern European cities seems to be progressing faster than it’s neighbouring cities (except for Budapest perhaps). They have shrugged off the dark clouds of their communist past and are embracing the new world of tourism and showcasing their long history with a friendlier attitude and more open thinking. It is the model which other cities like I mentioned in my other article  Eastern Danube Odyssey Budapest to Bucharest

We will remember the many adventures we had from getting lost and lugging our luggage around in between the long train rides. I will definitely come back since I wasn’t able to see the Astronomical clock ( sadly it was under renovation since it was a Unesco Heritage site ).

Travel tip: Travel once with just one sibling or best friend to somewhere both of you have never been before. Get lost… Drink up the wanderlust… Have fun…. Bucket list done!

One Month In Europe With kids, Part 3: Lucerne and France

Loire Valley

The beautiful Chateau de Chambord is the back drop for our first stop on our Loire Valley trip. It took a long drive but it was all worth it once we entered the magnificent palatial grounds which for us is second only to Versailles.

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What does set this apart from the other Chateaus are the Ipads that they use for kids to follow a treasure hunt for secret coins hidden in artifacts scattered in rooms throughout the chateau.

Travel tip: May need to spend about 2 hours to do this whole hunt unless you are pretty fit and good at finding things. The girls were really engaged though!

 

Chateau de Chenonceau

We decided to focus on the outside this time as we were short on time and wanted to take nice photos of the girls in their lovely dresses.

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Nothing is quite as intriguing as the maze in front of Chateau de Chenonceau so make sure to stop by along the path before heading to the house. The chateau rests upon a lovely little river with its graceful arches that truly make this the Chateau of the Queen as they say.

Chapel Bridge – Lucerne

It was generally a cloudy day but we caught a glimpse of sun in between as we crossed over the always remarkable chapel bridge on our way to our traditional cheese fondue.

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Cheese and Dark Chocolate Fondue

A must do for kids is to try fondue. The cheese was a mix of local cheeses with potatoes and bread. The chocolate was a dark and rich medley that went well with the marshmallows and fruits.

Travel tip: Just share with your little ones and ask for extra bread and fruits as they like. The dips are enough for our family of five.

We just did the regular tourist spot but asked our concierge to book a table next to the water. Picture perfect setting as the sunset late into the evening!

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The ducks were more than happy to gobble up our left over bread as we took in the sights.

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Colmar, France

This quaint little historical town is absolutely adorable! The flowers along the banks and the meandering canal takes your breath away as you are transported to an age gone by.

You can take a canal boat as well but I didn’t want to risk it with our little one not yet ready to swim.

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The brightly coloured houses are a great backdrop for pictures so make sure to snap as many as possible.

The town is very walkable and they have several shops along the way so you will always find something to do.

Travel tip: If you are an early riser, grab baguettes and croissants at the local bakery instead of eating at the hotel which gets really tiring after a long road trip.

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So ends our wonderful road trip thank you for coming along with us and hope you can one day experience the wonderful countryside of France and Switzerland.

 

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It was truly an unforgettable trip for my girls for a month which they will never forget. The trip was not easy by any stretch but the pictures speak for themselves. Thank god for Auto Grills along the highway for the much needed stops between long drives (never more than 4 hours a day if we could help it).

Always remember it is the little moments along the way and the time spent with them throwing them on the bed and watching them jump and play with each other in between that are the most memorable and not just the beautiful monuments and places packed with tourists as you snap off your pictures and eat overpriced cafe food.

Enjoy the journey! In tribute to our Favourite TV host Anthony Bourdain I end with the quote from him “I urge you to travel — as far and as widely as possible”

 

One Month Europe trip with Kids Part 2: Highlights of Barcelona, London, and France Roadtrip

BARCELONA

Park Guell

One of the best places for kids is the legendary Park Guell by Gaudi. We went on midday in the scorching sun so you may want to go a little later to enjoy the stroll more but it was definitely worth taking the kids through the colourful walls. Please watch them closely though as there are so many people and you could lose track of them.

The whole place looks cartoonish with its bright colours and sloped roofs and leaning columns. Fortunately they are doing major renovations to once again being out the colour.

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Sagrada Familia

A definite must see and another Gaudi masterpiece being beautifully restored is Sagrada Familia. It may look like a melted wax candle but if you look closely you can see it is highly detailed. You can appreciate how much work was put into it. Hopefully with the restoration there will be bright colours to highlight the structure.

Travel tip: Take the Hop on Hop off bus so you can see more of Barcelona without having to trouble yourself with parking. Oh and watch your wallet! Some of the best pickpockets are in Barcelona.

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The main reason for our Barcelona trip was a lovely wedding celebration at Hospital de Sant Pau which was donated by a very rich businessman in the 1900’s and still serves as a hospital.

Its beautiful arches and moorish accents make for a perfect blend into the night sky. I am sure this would be a great place to recover from any ailments you may have.

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I just had to share some the tapas they served during the wedding… they were so cute! Newspaper rolls stuffed with beef tartar and patatas bravas. Yum! Michelin Star chef indeed!

A great place for breakfast is Brunch & Cake. It may be more for adult tastes though than children so perhaps just going in for dessert may be better for kids.

LONDON and ENGLAND

Nothing is more iconic than the red telephone booth! So glad to see my son again we miss him so much now that he is studying abroad.

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We visited a beautiful farm in the countryside that felt like being in Downtown Abbey! The fresh milk in the morning was amazing! Home made scones at tea time is a dream come true! I am ready for supper Mr. Carson! Sorry it’s a private estate so won’t be able to share any more details.

 

FRANCE COUNTRYSIDE

Road trip start: Gordes

How we got there: Flight from London to Marseille International Airport then pick up Europcar from rental lot across.

Where we stayed: Les Mas Des Romarins Good breakfast and Two large beds for a big family!

The main reason for coming was to see the beautiful lavender fields of Provence, specifically the Abbey Senanque

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Travel tip: Take the V Class Mercedes van to fit all the luggage! (My husband actually packed the car…I was just helping him haha)

Sadly it was not the right season for Lavender (August is a better time) but we still had an amazing view of this old medieval town.

Road trip stop 2: Annecy

Where we stayed: Le Loges de annecy which served an amazing breakfast of all the best of the local produce like baguettes, croissants, cheeses butters, juices and milk in generous portions! We took half of it with us for little picnics at the parks!

 

Travel tip: There are parking lots underneath the old town which brings you right among the walkways and canals.

This should be called the little Venice of France actually with its beautiful canals and brightly coloured buildings along the banks. They should probably have their own gondolas as well as it opens up to a large lake where you can also take a river cruise. Just watch out for lots of bugs in July! (They should treat the water perhaps)

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Well that’s all for now!  We will finish the road trip on the next final post!

One Month Europe Trip with the kids, Part 1: Paris

The summer months are here and we all know the feeling of anxiety mixed with excitement of traveling with young children. Multiply that by a factor of 10 when thinking about taking a train, plane and car across all of Europe from Spain to France then to England and back and you will have an idea of what my husband and I felt before our trip.

Taking the Eurostar with our luggage. No they do not help you. No those containers at the back are not for our luggage. No you cannot use the lift to the train as these are only for Seniors. Yes please take a plane from Paris to London instead!

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My husband almost had a heart attack when I told him we had to bring 5 full size luggages, 3 hand carries and 5 small bags (kids backpacks included) oh… almost forgot a stroller as well….

Travel tip #1: Multidirectional wheels are a MUST! You cannot push two large suitcases per hand. In the Paris CDG the horror is there are very few luggage carts by the airport shuttle drop off area at Terminal 2. Once you are inside though you can find some as well. The stroller is also extremely important to keep your little one in place and to hold your baby bag.

Ah Paris!

Bringing your girls to Paris is truly worth all the hard work like sleepless flight and tons of baggage. Just seeing them absorbing all the beautiful sights (after putting away their Ipads of course!) such as the Eiffel Tower

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Travel tip #3: Go to the Trocadero to take pictures of the Eiffel as the back drop with your loved one. Of course if you can wake up early and go when there are less people would make it even better.

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Louvre

Nothing is quite like the Louvre with its exotic modern exterior pyramid welcoming the millions of visitors each year to the magnificent classic french buildings containing some of the most priceless art pieces in the world it is just the center of art and culture in the world. We wanted our girls to enjoy it the first time they came but were worried they may not enjoy art. The first time was exploratory just to see if they would be interested and lo and behold they were! Especially the story of the Mona Lisa going missing. There were simply too many people though and seemingly few elevators given our stroller. We decided to come back another day.

We came back another day but this time we booked with a private tour guide on Viator named Anna. WHAT A DIFFERENCE! She brought a story book and was very engaging with the girls. They were immediately captured in the history of the art and the museum. She had access to hidden entrances and knew where all the elevators were located so we whisked away quickly through all the exhibits. She told us that they have to take a course and know each room and the art inside.

ANGELINA’S Best Hot Chocolate

After a long day of touring the Louvre (or before!), there is nothing like a good cup of hot chocolate to perk you up. Just a couple of minutes away through the Tuileries gardens is the famous Angelina’s.

Travel tip #4: Go in the morning to avoid the lines. It is rather large so one order is enough for two and two orders enough for three people. A nice croissant is also a good offset to the dark rich flavour of the african cocoa beans.

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If you still haven’t had enough sweets or would like to take home something then Laduree is only around the corner with an amazing window display.

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We took the hop on hop off bus for the girls to get a sample of the town and they absolutely loved it. My husband told them little stories from place to place as they had a hard time listening to the onboard commentary (Bring your own headset!)

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Disneyland Paris

We ended our Paris days with a visit to Disneyland to reward the kids for all the museums we had to go to. It was a picture perfect moment in front of the castle before it started pouring down. Oh well always make the most of it! Luckily we were staying at the nearby Mariott Vacation club.

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The most unique aspect of Disneyland Paris is in the Ratatouille ride which is so adorable but breaks down quite often.  Get a fast pass in the morning and just hope you get in if not you may need to wait awhile but it is worth it.

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Versailles

A short 30 mins away by car is the magnificent Palace of Versailles. We actually did not even bother going inside with all the crowds and decided to enjoy the rare beautiful day to take a stroll in the park to the Queen’s Hamlet which has been recently restored (Take a map so you do not get lost….. or get lost its worth it!)

Travel tip #5: Avoid the crowded cafes in the palace and instead grab a hot jacket potato in the Greater Trianon then finish it with Angelina’s hot chocolate. There is a lovely train to take (we were 5 with a toddler so couldn’t fit in the golf cart you can also rent….. next time!)

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The garden is lovely this time of the year.. this tree looks like its part of the Monet painting doesn’t it? What a great way to cap off this part. We will post the rest of the trip in part 2!

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Next part: Our trip to London and Barcelona! Road trip around France!

 

 

 

 

Budapest to Bucharest: A review of a River Cruise on Amawaterways Amacerto

Reputed to be the best river cruise operator by Berlitz and numerous travel sites, we ventured on our first river cruise on the Amawaterways Amarcerto boat from Budapest down to Bucharest via the Eastern Danube. The founders Rudi Schreiner (The father of river cruises) had come over to Manila to officially launch Amawaterways several weeks earlier to an overflowing elderly crowd in the Conservatory in Peninsula Makati and had convinced us to try it out for my father-in-law’s birthday. The cruise we selected was the “Gems of Eastern Europe”.

It seemed interest was high and other past traveler’s experiences were well rated so let’s take a look into what the cruise is really all about..

THE LOBBY

Photos courtesy of Amawaterways

THE STATE ROOM

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The most important part of a cruise is actually the room itself. Each room came with an ample size balcony and was clean and very compact.

My cousin-in-law Caren Grey who just started a Philippine travel agency called mylocalite worked with Intas who is the official registered agent to plan our trip.

Travel Tip: The greatest part of cruises is NOT HAVING TO PACK AND UNPACK! Just put your clothes in the closets, use the rubber mat on the bed to keep things clean as you unpack your suitcase and place your luggage under the bed to save space. Voila! Stress free travel especially for the elderly or those with handicap.

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As mentioned in my earlier post, we started with a river cruise at night along Budapest and then proceeded down the Danube.

Travel Tip: The best part of this river cruise is the boat as it is a shallow hull therefore quite stable so if you get motion sickness this is the option for you! Lastly if you are like my husband and constantly do risk assessments he already as asked what happens should the boat sink… the answer was take a cocktail at the roof deck as the boat is actually taller than the riverbed.

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After the room, the second most important thing is the FOOD! It is all included as with most cruises but what sets this apart from the rest is that you can book the “fine dining” restaurant called “chef’s table” for one night and do not pay extra for it. There is a personal waiter for your table and your own chef. I must say we were very impressed with the food in general which did may not have lobster or Angus rib eye steaks but had very good local delicacies and fresh ingredients like tomatoes (Mostly agricultural business in this region).

Travel tip (Healthy Option): I asked the head waiter if they could make me oatmeal chocolate chip cookies as a healthier alternative. The first few tries were pretty dry but they got it eventually (with enough coaching)! I really appreciate the extra effort! A baker comes on board every morning to make the baked goods by the way so you may be able to ask for other items next time.

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Lastly, the final component is entertainment. There is not much entertainment on board as our onboard musician while nice did not seem to have any songs past the closing of the Iron Curtain. Luckily my family always likes to improvise so we had a name that tune game on the first night and found similarly spirited group in the tour who took up the songs with a very talented singer of their own (Sadly our family have no singers but my aunt’s could dance I tell you!)

My husband enjoyed the massive chess board on the deck and had a thrilling match with his brother. He also swam at the roof deck pool (Ok more like waded as it is quite small).

On the last few nights we hooked up our Iphones to play some songs to start the party off with the same group who actually out partied us on a nightly basis.

Travel Tip: There is a free cocktail hour before dinner with FREE drinks. My husband liked the Whiskey Sour although it was premixed. Wine is free flowing during dinner as well so make sure to make space. The local wines are quite good although not well known.

 

 

I will end this with our tour of Vukovar which pretty much encapsulates Eastern Europe which is a land frozen in time trying to rebuild itself once step at a time after a harrowing period. I recommend this tour to those who have done most of Western Europe has to offer and are looking for something off the beaten track and a little rougher (Yes cheaper as well) than the main tourist photos of Eiffel Tower and London Bridge. It is also a great way for them to provide jobs to the locals in a very tough economy. My husband calls it “Charity tourism” every time we are faced with a somber faced waiter telling us we can’t split the bill or order a meal with something slightly different on the menu (Me: Can you remove the olives from the salad and dressing on the side……. waiter: No not possible!)

Thank you Amawaterways for the great service from the warm waiters to the hard working housekeeping. The hotel manager Pascal was great at making things run smoothly and our cruise director Florentine was always there to send us off on our tours and keep us informed of the days events.